Xcel Energy customers are sounding off about the company's proposal to hike its rates.
Last November, Xcel asked the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for permission to raise its rates by $285.5 million, or 10.7 percent. Xcel said the rate increase will keep the company's Monticello and Prairie Island nuclear power plants running safely and reliably for the next 20 years. It will also allow Xcel to expand output from the Monticello plant and upgrade its system. If the rake hike is approved, a typical residential customer's monthly bill would go up by about $9.
Seven public hearings will be held on the matter before the Commission makes its decision next fall. More than two dozen people showed up to the first of those seven hearings, held Monday afternoon at the Earle Browne Center in Brooklyn Center. Among them was Brooklyn Park resident Sandra Schultz who lives with her husband on a fixed income.
She said any rate increase hurts.
"My husband and I are trying to cut back any way we can and conserve. We keep the temperature of our house sometimes at an uncomfortable level trying to conserve," she said. "My concern is if they keep this up, what do we do? How do we offset it?"
Last week, the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources, gave testimony that urged the PUC reduce the proposed $285.5 million rate increase by $191 million. It recommended Xcel energy cut costs internally, rather than shift most of the burden to its customers. The Department of Commerce suggested reducing costs related to employee benefits, insurance costs, and charitable foundation contributions among other items.
"We did ask for the cost that we think is necessary to serve our customers well," said Laura McCarten, Xcel Energy regional vice president. "We'll work with the department and the other parties to try to understand their position. And, as in the past, we've been able to work through some of these issues and narrow the scope of these issues and reach constructive results, and we're hopeful that we'll be able to do that in this case, as well."
An administrative law judge will take testimony at each of the public hearings, prepare a report and make a recommendation to the Public Utilities Commission. Those who cannot attend the public hearings can comment on the Commission's website at www.puc.state.mn.us.
Right now there is an interim rate hike in place that has typical residential customers paying about an extra $8 a month. If the final rate hike is lower than the interim rate, Xcel will issue refunds with interest.
The Commission is expected to make a decision before September 2013. The rate hike will kick in in early 2014.
12 News is on Comcast cable channel 12 in the northwest suburbs of Minneapolis and includes the cities Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Crystal, Golden Valley, Maple Grove, New Hope, Osseo, Plymouth and Robbinsdale.